Dear reader

Why do I write about pitfalls of spirituality?

My purpose with this blog is to crystallize and share my thoughts and experiences, in the hope that you and I may benefit from them. From 1993-2005 I practiced a so-called spiritual method (Sahaj Marg). Ultimately I realized that this method - and especially the organization around it (Shri Ram Chandra Mission or SRCM)- was contrary to some deep spiritual layer in myself. I came to some clear conclusions, and also to some still developing insights.

One still developing insight is that almost everybody is looking for some form of spirituality in their life. Therefore there are many spiritual methods and movements, often with similar pitfalls to the ones I experienced.

Many people follow a well-trodden path which is defined by the group in their immediate vicinity. Others are prompted by their heart and/or head to look for spirituality that makes sense on a personal level. Spirituality gives fulfillment -humanity as one, universal love growing, one with the buddha- as well as direction through life's tough questions.

I write about the pitfalls of spirituality because so many others seem to write mostly about the bliss of their own approach to spirituality. This bliss to me actually seems a pitfall.

Understanding the pitfalls I deem essential to gain more spiritual insight. For me this actually translates into a lighter and more loving heart. I do not believe that understanding is the key issue in spirituality. But I do believe that misunderstanding can block key issues (although to which degree probably varies with each person).

Please bear with my frequent use of I feel, seems to me, in my not so humble opinion and so on. It is to emphasize that I do not consider any of my opinions to be more than that. I cannot bring you universal truth. In my not so humble opinion [imnsho] universal truth is a major pitfall in spirituality.

Dear reader, I hope you find something worthwhile on these pages. Friendly reactions, which may be as critical as you like, are always welcome.

Tips how to read this blog

* Please start with the closing remarks (click on the link), they should provide a balanced perspective on this blog.

* There is a list of 20 pitfalls in the sidebar. Clicking on a pitfall will provide a number of posts in which that pitfall is discussed to some extent.

* If you have time, consider starting with the oldest post, and simply going through to each next post. This probably gives the most faithful ;-) reading...
Showing posts with label positive aspects of spirituality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label positive aspects of spirituality. Show all posts

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Spiritual damage caused by false gurus and their spiritual movements

This year I haven't written much on this blog myself (notwithstanding andrew p.'s long article I just copied in three parts last week).

But there is a subject that has crystallized lately which I want to write about: participation in a spiritual movement isn't always beneficial, and can even cause real damage to people. For this reason, one can now find several avenues of counseling available to former members of cults and sects. You can find some links in the sidebar of this blog, but there are many more sites dealing with the fall-out of bad experiences in a spiritual movement or cult.

It would be beyond my reach to address all the types of such damage (which involve a large range, even from psychological to physical violence). But there is one type of damage which as far as I can tell hasn't been extensively described on the internet, and which on the large scale of things perhaps doesn't weigh quite so heavy, yet which can affect individuals profoundly enough to merit a mention on this blog, I believe.

Perhaps it is appropriate to call this type of damage `spiritual damage'.


One might well wonder why I still devote time to writing about the pitfalls of spirituality [and truth be said, this past year I didn't write so much ;-)], having left my former guru and his movement Sahaj Marg already more than 5 years ago. After all, a negative experience usually takes some time to overcome, but often people come to terms with it and move on.

This goes for me too, I think, mostly...but I also observe a difference in my outlook on spirituality and my expectations in this field, perhaps especially with regard to the capacity of people to organize and/or promote spirituality.

After my negative experience with Sahaj Marg, I find myself largely incapable of simply believing in any organization proclaiming lofty goals. Often I have the feeling that I see similar patterns of marketing and deception, or that I would see these patterns if I was more in the know about a certain organization.

This is not limited to spiritual movements or organizations with a definite `spiritual' signature, but reaches as far as NGO's tackling hunger, disease, poverty, environmental issues, human rights, etc.


So the one word which describes the feeling I am left with from my former spiritual movement is...deception. And I think that the damage that I feel from this deception goes deeper than damage from being deceived by say a conman or even by a dear friend.

Somehow, if I must make some sort of analysis, it seems that what is so discouraging about this deception is that this deception is helped being maintained by very good-willing people, many of whom kind and oriented towards a spiritual way of life.

In the end, I believe it comes down to this: in order to maintain a rosy feeling of well-being and a false sense of `special purpose' in our existence, many benevolent people will willingly help maintain the deception that a false guru / spiritual movement offers. The attraction of life-as-in-some-spiritual-fairy-tale wins out, at the cost of truthfulness and real betterment, in my not so humble opinion.

Thus, instead of building for a world where true spirituality thrives within and between people, we add to to the conglomerate of religious / spiritual divisions and falsehoods and deceptions.


So what, nothing new under the sun...right?

But regarding my 12 years of participation in a spiritual movement, what if I had devoted my time and energy to a worthwhile cause instead? And why can I now no longer bring myself to organize something for people like me, who still wish to see this world becoming more spiritual, and who also look for spiritual development in themselves?

So that last question somewhat describes the spiritual damage I feel. Because although I still believe that most people look for spirituality on some level, I no longer believe it possible to organize something that will help speed up spiritual development in this world. And I used to be a person who devoted a lot of time and energy to trying to organize such things, both in my work and in my free time.

In any such organization, how long before we start flocking around a new false guru?

On the other hand, without organizing something, without making some sort of difference in numbers, the many voices of the many people like me will likely be drowned out by the clamour coming from all sorts of organizations with less spiritually oriented objectives, religions and spiritual movements included ;-). And also, in this way the many positive aspects of spirituality will come less to the fore.


Therefore, a challenge seems to rise up: how to maintain a spiritual outlook on life, how to see the good in people, how to endeavour for a better world, and yet not be drowned out too much, and yet not add to some deceptive set-up coming from an organization with lofty goals....

So far this challenge has been too heavy for me. How would it be to have an organization with no members and no ideology too...and certainly penniless, which would nonetheless bring people together in a spiritual atmosphere and which would make a voice heard petitioning for spirituality instead of materialistic gains...?

Such an organization might see me at its meetings, from time to time. Because nowadays, I find less opportunity to exchange on spirituality, and to work together with a focus on this common goal of a better world. Not out of lack of goodwill in the people around me, but because there is no facilitating `structure', few facilitating `occasions'.


I hope to have described some sort of spiritual damage which may (or may not, we are all different) occur from participating in a spiritual movement. Summarizing: having put one's true faith in a so-called `Very Spiritual Person' and in the often good-willing followers of the accompanying spiritual movement, it can be a serious let-down if this VSP and his/her movement are finally perceived as untrustworthy.

This let-down often has serious emotional fall-out, for which nowadays there are many counseling options. But even when this emotional fall-out is not so bad, or when it has subdued, there can well be residual damage. This may, I believe from my own experience, well result in a subsequent distrust of other initiatives for the benefit of mankind, and a lack of enthusiasm to join groups with even just a slight spiritual orientation.

Seeing this damage for what it is may, I hope, form part of the cure.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Obedience & groupthink: the Sahaj Marg example

Recent speeches by my former Sahaj Marg guru Chari have convinced me that `obedience' is worthy of being mentioned as a separate pitfall.

Although this blog aims at a general analysis of the pitfalls which commonly occur in many spiritual movements and religions, the example given in these speeches is stronger than anything I could possibly come up with myself.

Dear reader, perhaps you are participating in some spiritual movement, and some of the below sounds familiar. Please then ask yourself if you really wish to give up your own, independent thought to someone else? Especially since a true spiritual guide would never ask you to give up your own independent thought. A guide is a guide, guiding humans. A guide is not a shepherd herding sheep. Or do you prefer to be a sheep? Part of the unthinking flock? Fine. But then you will never be a master of yourself, now will you?


I quote from Chari's recent speech `Read with your Heart' (given 2 February 2009 in Satkhol, I emphasized the last paragraph in bold type):

`Again and again Babuji Maharaj emphasizes the fact that Sahaj Marg does not ask you for all your life earnings, to give up your family and go into the jungle. It is a very simple method: meditation in the morning, cleaning in the evening, prayer at night. No major sacrifices involved. Only to live a good life, in the right way, but with the only stipulation being obedience to the Master's wishes, and that again is only for our benefit.

We obey to benefit. Unlike in public life, in human life, in our day-to-day life, we obey for somebody else's benefit. In spirituality we obey for our own benefit. You obey; you benefit. You don't obey; you don't benefit. In obedience there can be no questions: "Why have I to obey?" If you ask such a question, it would probably mean several lives more to be taken before you understand why I have to obey. In obedience there is no `why'. There is no search for logic. There is no demand for your question to ask: "Why this question should be obeyed?" or "Why this order should be obeyed? Why does the Master have to tell me and not somebody else? Why does he ask me to obey and not somebody else?" No questions. Totally unquestioning obedience is the only requirement of this spiritual way that I know, Sahaj Marg. The moment you start asking questions, it is implicit that you are questioning the wisdom of your Master, the intentions of your Master and his existence itself - never done, except at the peril of your own evolution.'

Notice the not so subtle use of `fear and temptation' above. If you ask questions: it will probably cost you several lives! (fear). If you obey blindly: you benefit (temptation, the implication is `liberation in this life', whatever liberation may mean of course).


And I quote from his speech `Preceptors, the arteries of Sahaj Marg' (given 4 January 2009, Manapakkam, the bold type emphasis is mine):

`When Babuji says eat, you eat. When he says don't eat, you don't eat. You don't think.

One thing that our people must understand is, in obedience there is no place for thought. You are not to think whether this is to be obeyed or not. The Guru orders, you do it. The famous example in our mythology is Parashuram. When he said he was devoted and loved his father, his father said, "Will you do what I tell you?" He said yes. He said, "Cut off your mother's head." Chichick. And the head came off. Mother's head! - obedience.
Of course, then the father said, "I am pleased with you. Ask for a boon." He said, "I want my mother alive again." And the mother came alive again.

So, you see, obedience never gives you personal loss, though apparently it may look so.'


Sahaj Marg, like many movements before it (and after, no doubt alas), has turned into a religion, in my not so humble opinion. I see no difference at all between the organization of the Pyramid in Sahaj Marg and the Pyramid of the Roman Catholic Church. The preceptors are the priests, the centers-in-charge are the bishops, the zonals-in-charge are the cardinals, and the guru is the pope, each with their Inner Circle of powerful confidants.

Blind obedience imnsho is necessary to keep the whole Pyramid from toppling over, to maintain closed ranks to all the critical questions that are posed. Questions which are increasingly difficult to answer, because -like the child saying: new clothes? but the emperor is naked! - not even God can make the square root of 2 equal to π (pi). Not even the emperor can make imaginary clothes cover his nudity.

The point is -if one believes in God- that God saw to it that the square root of 2 is necessarily not equal to π (pi) . Logic, science, rationality are perhaps just a part of reality...but reality nonetheless. To deny critical self-reliant thought a worthy place is to renounce spirituality, in my not so humble opinion.

Many great scientists were deeply spiritual persons. They saw God in the wonder of reality all around us. They marveled at the insights that the human mind could glean into Nature, by not accepting religious dogmas and by following the logic of the cosmos. By allowing all questions, especially the critical ones, since the critical questions challenge what we think we know, and lead us further on our slow path of both scientific and spiritual evolution.


Spiritual evolution, that is what we need, if you would ask me. If we would have obeyed religious leaders in the past as blindly as Chari is suggesting, we would still be cannibals. Does one need religion to be kind, loving, sharing, concerned for other beings? Does one need blind obedience for this? Let's get real: we do not need anything, anyone, but our own commitment and dedication to becoming `spiritual'...whatever that may mean.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some closing remarks

It seems to me that what I set out to do has been done. This therefore should be my last post on this blog , for the time being. If you go back one post, you will find a list of 16 `pitfalls of spirituality'. I will provide each with links to relevant posts contained in this blog.

Still, the best way to read this blog (I think) is to start out at the oldest post and click on `newer post' (at the bottom of the post) each time. This might take some time though, I have no idea how much pages of a regular book these posts would fill.

What has been lacking a bit, thereby causing some imbalance, is an account of all the positive experiences I've had with regard to spirituality, and also with regard to practising a spiritual method. In my life I've been privileged to have met many kind, loving, wonderful people from whom I have learned a great deal about what spirituality means to me. Many of these people have given me what cannot be expressed in words, without second thought or reserve, out of what to me seems true and inspiring altruism. Thank you all.

It might seem negatively balanced also to only talk about pitfalls of spirituality, but I really do not feel that I can add significantly to the many beautiful texts on positive aspects of spirituality existing already. (My personal attitude is to read beyond certain often-occurring pitfalls to find what is to me the real meaning in a spiritual text.)

Non-absolute, non-divisive, individualized spirituality to me seems necessary to bring about what I would call a better world. A world free of exploitation. A world where children are safe, and can grow up playfully. Where `war' like `poverty' is a strange concept from long-forgotten times. Where humans are the custodians of nature. Where human and animal rights are respected. Where difference of opinion goes together with a friendly helping attitude. Etc. You might say: `dream on'...and I would reply (I think) with John Lennon's song Imagine:

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

This better world is far more important to me and probably you (why else would you be reading this blog?) than most other things. Including of course this blog, which is as personal as it is imperfect. Let's put aside our differences and combine our efforts to make this world a better place.